The 2011 NFL regular season is in the books after the New England Patriots destroyed the Buffalo Bills in Week 17.
Not too surprisingly, it is another year in which Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have led the Patriots to the top of the AFC.
Brady and Belichick are undoubtedly the kings of winning in the regular season, the duo have won more games than any other player coach combination throughout history, and this year may be their greatest achievement to date.
That is, their greatest achievement so far as the regular season goes.
Despite being a number one seed on the back of 13 regular season victories, Brady and Belichick have had to carry the 2011 Patriots to the playoffs this year.
Belichick in a sense is a part of the problem as well as the solution.
The team's greatest weakness is not minor by any means. A defense that ranks 31st in both overall yardage and passing yards will ultimately prevent this team from winning a Super Bowl. As Patriots fans know from the 2007 season, no number of regular season wins equate to a Super Bowl victory.
Indeed, both number one seeds in the AFC and NFC have struggling defenses. The Green Bay Packers have the worst pass defense in the league, however unlike the Packers, the Patriots do not have the playmakers to overcome those statistical frailties.
The Packers have a defense that is littered with playmakers and turnover potential. Guys like Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews, Tramon Williams and BJ Raji have proven themselves as difference makers in clutch situations.
Compared to the Patriots, who's defense is compromised of reliable but passive defenders, the Packers defense is much more valuable when trying to make a playoff run.
After the releases of players like Leigh Bodden, Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, the Patriots' secondary is in critical form with James Ihedigbo, Antwuan Molden and Julian Edelman playing crucial roles.
Ihedigbo, the veteran of the group, has been a good player for the Patriots but can't replace the production of Sanders, Bodden and to a lesser extent Meriweather on his own. Their impact on the defense hasn't been aided by the fitness struggles of Pat Chung and the performance struggles of Devin McCourty.
While the AFC doesn't feature any great passing attacks to manipulate the team's secondary, although the Pittsburgh Steelers effectively handled them in the regular season, the team is all but guaranteed to face off against either Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers should they reach the Super Bowl.
Any seasoned football fan will understand that winning in the playoffs is not like winning in the regular season. The Patriots won't be able to afford to go down by 21 or even 17 in the playoffs as they have in recent weeks.
Unlike beating the Buffalo Bills or Miami Dolphins, teams like the Packers, Ravens and Steelers won't allow the Patriots to pile up the points on offense. In fact offensively, the Patriots are heavily reliant on Tom Brady.
Playoff caliber defenses such as the Texans, Steelers and Ravens won't be scared to go to man coverage against the Patriots' receivers. Wes Welker may be a star, but there is a gameplan already out there to stop him(check the Pittsburgh Steelers' use of Ike Taylor).
Past Welker the team's tight ends are the next best threats. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski in particular, are deadly weapons, but a quality defense, such as those mentioned, will be able to contain them if the outside receivers aren't drawing coverage.
The X-Factor for the New England Patriots offensively will be Stevan Ridley. If Ridley can emerge into a dynamic rushing threat and revitalize an offensive line that was previously dominant early in the season, then the offense could potentially carry the team to Super Bowl glory.
That is asking a lot of a rookie that has barely featured during the season.
Entering the 2012 NFL playoffs, the Patriots may be a number one seed in their conference, but the reality is that their roster is already close to ruin.
Generally, with some major exceptions such as last year, the healthiest team in the NFL at the end of the year wins it all. The cuts and losses suffered in Boston this year has already put the Patriots behind the curve. Without even suffering a raft of injuries they are behind the other teams.
Their 13 win season has mostly featured victories over non playoff teams. Their record against playoff teams this year is 2-2*. One of those victories came against a Denver Broncos side that limped into the playoffs winning the awful AFC West.
Attaining a bye for next week will help the New England Patriots and their expert gameplanning head coach. However don't be surprised if they have a few more weeks off fairly soon after.*Article written before NFC East was decided, therefore both the Giants and Cowboys results were included 1-1.Tweeting @Cianaf